By Madeline Marriott ’24

Jolie Saint Vil ’27 began her artistic journey with a long string of paper dolls. 

“I had hundreds of these paper dolls grouped into couples,” she says. “They each had a particular thing about them—they might be a vampire or a lion. My mom would take them to work to laminate them, and I made a purse out of two pieces of paper stapled together to put them in. Then, I made a tiny stage and had them all perform.” 

Jolie Saint Vil

Jolie Saint Vil ’27

Fast forward to over a decade later and her creative vision has only grown. In her first semester as a visual art student at Lafayette, Saint Vil now works on larger-than-life portraits of family members using canvas that can stretch to over 6 feet tall. 

“I’m an only child, so I’ve always been interested in my background and being the one who would carry on my family stories,” she says. “With my painting, I’m really into telling those stories on a large scale that they probably wouldn’t have been shown in before. In the past, painting was for important people—it was for kings and queens and God,” she continues. “My family story is one that probably wouldn’t be important to many other people, but I come from a line of incredible people and incredible women with incredible power, and when I make portraits, I am making them important.” 

Her favorite work is one she made in high school featuring her father and his brother. To Saint Vil, it represented a culmination of her learning throughout high school and solidified her love for what she calls “working big.” Working on a large-scale gives Saint Vil the opportunity to be detail-oriented, as well as place herself in the shoes of her subject in an effective way. 

“I love being able to look into the eyes of the person I’m painting,” she says. “I think it’s interesting to be able to watch them come to life.” 

Getting the faces of her subjects just right is Saint Vil’s favorite part of the painting process—she always completes it first before moving onto hair, clothes, and background. 

“I always just want to capture the emotion of a moment,” she continues. “I think artists are really empathetic because you have to be able to see the emotions that people are feeling in order to capture them.” 

Saint Vil’s current project focuses on five generations of women in her family and has brought her ancestors to life for her in a new way. “It goes from my great-great-grandmother to me,” she explains. “It’s such an interesting painting to work on because I get to see the way our faces are the same. I get to watch my family naturally progress.” 

The campus community has taken notice of Saint Vil’s work and her attitude toward art. Members of The Marquis literary magazine called her submitted work, titled Myself,  “evocative and endearing” and “introspective, vibrant, and psychedelic,” giving particular note to her use of scale, color, and texture. Her painting will be included in the group’s spring magazine. 

“I almost cried when I read the feedback from the literary magazine,” she says. “It was so wonderful. Sometimes, things don’t have a conscious meaning, but people give them meaning. I love hearing what people think my art is, because that is what it becomes.”

Saint Vil has forged a connection with Robert Mattison, Marshall R. Metzgar Professor of Art History, over their shared love of the subject. She is inspired by the passion that is evident in his teaching.

“He writes books on art and is friends with artists and has collections of art in his home,” she says of Mattison. “It’s so wonderful to be taught by someone who just really loves art. He always has really interesting things to say about paintings, and he’s so welcoming and never makes me feel like I said the wrong thing.” 

According to Mattison, the admiration is mutual.

“She has contributed a huge amount to my class,” he says. “She informed people of ideas that have to do with both sensitivity to the sitter and the neglected place of people of color, and her art has brought all of that alive, never in a confrontational way but always in a thoughtful way. She gives [her subjects] a sense of confidence and a demeanor that really connects them to the history of art in a way that is very compelling,” he adds. “I just think her sensitivity as a human being and an artist is really great.” 

In her first year on College Hill, Saint Vil has already found a home in the art community of Easton. She attends a weekly figure drawing class downtown where she practices her craft with artists of all ages and backgrounds. 

“Figure drawing is hard, and I’ve been able to watch myself progress and get better and better every Thursday,” she says. “It’s also a really good chance to meet the people of Easton. I’ve heard it’s a town full of artists, and it’s really cool to meet them and be able to share my work and learn from them.” 

For Saint Vil, Lafayette provides an environment to not just improve her artistic skills, but also to cultivate all of her diverse passions. 

“I always say your art expands when you learn other things outside the discipline. I have lots and lots of interests, and a place like Lafayette allows me to learn about them in a way that expands my art,” she says. “This place is so beautiful that I just knew I had to come and do my art here. It had to be here.”